Feminist New Materialist Practice: The Mattering of Methods

by: , Tara Page & Helen Palmer , May 15, 2019

© Photo by Roberto Ourgant: https://www.instagram.com/rourgant/


Feminist New Materialist Practice: The Mattering of Methods, a focus issue of MAI: Feminism & Visual Culture brings together international feminist academics and artists working across social sciences, arts and humanities to examine the relevance and productiveness of new materialisms in various types of feminist research. Until recently, the new materialisms have mainly constituted a conceptual field, viewed as ‘high’ theory. However, contemporary work is beginning to explore and develop a range of research methods and practices that both put new materialist concepts to work, and reflect on them, reshaping what new materialisms means as an approach, what it does, and what it can do. Feminist new materialisms, we suggest, are at the forefront of these developments; however, as yet, this emerging field of methodological and practice work has not been fully mapped. This special issue, therefore, draws out and pushes further the implications of new materialist philosophies for feminist research methodologies, methods and practices–and vice versa. In other words, it both considers and expands the making and mattering of feminist new materialisms.


Feminist New Materialisms: Methods & Practice

The impact of the new materialisms is felt across many disciplines, not least by challenging the very boundaries between them. As various publications, networks, conferences and workshops attest, people, ideas and approaches from many different disciplines and practices are developing the new materialisms, constituting an interdisciplinary and changing assemblage. For example, in the ‘Introduction’ to their edited collection, Material Feminisms, Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman argue that a focus on matter is

crucial for every aspect of feminist thought: science studies, environmental feminisms, corporeal feminisms, queer theory, disability studies, theories of race and ethnicity, environmental justice, (post-) Marxist feminism, globalisation studies, and cultural studies (2008: 9-10).

And, as Diana Coole and Samantha Frost suggest in the ‘Introduction’ to their edited collection, New Materialisms, ‘foregrounding material factors and reconfiguring our very understanding of matter are prerequisites for any plausible account of coexistence and its conditions in the twenty-first century (2010: 2). While Rosi Braidotti discusses ‘neo-materialism’ as ‘a method, a conceptual frame and a political stand, which refuses the linguistic paradigm, stressing instead the concrete yet complex materiality of bodies immersed in social relations of power’ (2012: 21).

It is vital to underscore here the feminist grounding of neo-materialism. Braidotti echoes this in the etymological link to ‘mater’ in materialism stating that ‘the emancipation of mat(t)er is also by nature a feminist project’ (2012: 93). Recently, we have been involved in the ‘COST Action IS1307 on New Materialism: Networking European Scholarship on ‘How Matter Comes to Matter’, led by Iris van der Tuin–from which many of this issue’s contributions emerged–an initiative that was founded on the following argument:

With the changing of societies on local, national and international scales owing to economic, ecological, political and technological developments and crises, a reorganised academic landscape can be observed to be emerging. Scholarship strives to be interdisciplinary to grasp and examine the unfolding complexity of ongoing ecological, socio-cultural and politico-economic changes (New Materialism: How Matter Comes to Matter).

The ‘feminist’ in the title of this special issue highlights what we see as the necessity for further developing how the feminist new materialisms approach power relations, politics and ethics in non-dualistic and potentially affirmative ways (Hinton & van der Tuin 2014). Drawing on its long history of working on the politics of the relationships between nature and culture, feminism has played a crucial role in both establishing and critiquing this interdisciplinary field (Ahmed 2008; Sullivan 2012). According to Mariam Motamedi Fraser, ‘feminist theory … is a “natural” place to begin to think through these issues, especially given its historical interest and investment in bodies, nature and ontology’ (2002: 621). A central tenet of new materialist thinking is that ‘matter’ is fundamentally multiple, self-organising, dynamic and inventive, moving between nature and culture, the animated and automated, bodies and environments. In Barad’s words, ‘matter’ is ‘a dynamic and shifting entanglement of relations, rather than … a property of things’ (2007: 224). Materiality is, thus, an entanglement and matter; in itself, it is always already open to, or rather entangled with, ‘the Other’. And ‘[t]his is as true for electrons as it is for brittle stars as it is for the differentially constituted human’ (Barad 2007: 392).

The materialisation of a concept is simultaneously tricky and breathtakingly simple. In an academic setting, the uncomfortable or awkward reaction to a concept’s mattering (through image, sound, bodily movement or any combination of renderings) is important and should be attended to. To render concepts materially through practice forces us out of the comfort zone of using pretermined words or phrases, and we can no longer rely on jargon. Each material articulation is created and perceived anew. There is the real potential for novelty and innovation–a new type of reason beyond the logos of abstract philosophical thought. This is the ‘newness’ of new materialist practice. Many of the pieces in this special issue foreground the sensory in their practice; as an interface between us and the world, sensory perception cannot be ignored in material thinking and practice. By working with, through and between materials, we underscore the sensory affordances of new materialist research-creation, which is an area some scholars have gestured towards as particularly rich for future work within the new materialisms Huang 2017; Shomura 2017; Tompkins 2016; Luciano & Roudeau 2015).

What makes this methodological mattering specifically feminist and how is it feminist in more than just one way? First, the energy required to overthrow conventional (abstract, ideal) reasoning in favour of messy mattering of methods is precisely the energy that is required to break down barriers and borders that prevent us from understanding and affirming difference without prejudice. It is the energy that allows us to think about the concept of difference differently. This is significant because it takes us away from thinking difference only as binary separation or as opposed to sameness. It is entirely new and fresh thinking of difference: it affirms rather than negates. The old, negatory type of difference, in Trinh T. Minh-Ha’s words,

defined in the master’s terms often resorts to the simplicity of essences. Divide and conquer has for centuries been his creed, his formula of success. But a different terrain of consciousness has been explored for some time now, a terrain in which clear cut divisions and dualistic oppositions such as science vs. subjectivity, masculine vs. feminine, may serve as departure points for analytical departure points for analytical purpose but are no longer satisfactory if not entirely untenable to the critical mind’ (Minh-Ha 1998).

As we can see in the traditions of non-dualistic, poststructuralist thinking from which new materialism emerges, difference undergoes a significant overhaul.

At the same time as we open out what might be considered as agential within research, we are also mindful of the need to continue to prioritise questions of ethics, reflexivity, embodiment and participation in the research process. The important and influential research methodologies that feminism has cultivated are productive here, which, as Yasmin Gunaratnam and Carrie Hamilton argue are not unified but nevertheless ‘incite lively debate about the politics of knowledge production’ and ethically appropriate ways of doing research (2017: 115). In the context of Karen Barad’s work, the term ‘entanglement’ refers ‘not simply to be[ing] intertwined with another, as in the joining of separate entities, but to lack an independent, self-contained existence’ (2007: ix). Entanglement indicates how entities are always relational and to how this relationality is fundamental to the constitution of entities.

Our focus in this special issue is on how research practice and methods both are entangled and make entanglements, or to put it slightly differently, on how research practices and methods are entanglements of various entities that also make various entangled entities. In some ways, our aim in putting together or thinking across practice and method is to see them both as ways of doing. In social sciences, methods are often characterised as the practice of research, or as the practical aspects of research. In arts and humanities, practice is also sometimes seen as a method or as an approach. In both of these meanings, there is an activity through which something is produced. Here, we draw on recent developments in the social sciences that see methods as inventive (Lury & Wakeford 2012; Coleman 2009), performative or enactive (Law & Urry 2004) of the social worlds they study. In John Law, Mike Savage and Evelyn Ruppert’s terms, methods are doubled in that ‘they are constituted by the social world of which they are a part’ and ‘they help to constitute that social world’ (2011: 4). As such, methods are politicised. Methods make worlds, and so we might ask: what methods might ‘we’ want to create or make?

This understanding of methods challenges an instrumentalist account of methods as neutral tools for applying theory, resulting in a divide between theory, method and the substantive focus of a research project (Law, Savage & Ruppert 2011). In so doing, it also challenges an understanding of the empirical world as ‘out there’, waiting to be studied; a binary that itself rests upon a separation of matter into the intentional active human research subject and the passive, inert object that the human animates. Taking up these understandings of method from social sciences through feminist new materialisms enables us to consider how the human is only one part of a research assemblage and how other materials are also active in research, as we discuss below. Reworking the binary between animate and inanimate matter, we focus on a potential plethora of research agencies.

This focus issue of MAI adds a specifically feminist new materialist angle to the growing body of work on art and creative practice as research methods, some of which we draw on here. Barbara Bolt argues that there are many ‘materials’ through which art ‘come[s] into being–the material bodies of artists and theorists, the matter of the medium, the technologies of production and the immaterial bodies of knowledge that form discourse around art’ (2015: 7). Also, discussing artistic research and new materialisms, Katve-Kaisa Kontturi, Milla Tiainen, Tero Nauha and Marie-Luise Angerer note:

questions of materiality have during the past few decades solidly returned or emerged to the agendas of artistic research and art studies as well. In addition to emphasising the active–albeit fundamentally relation-bound–nature of materialities, the notion of intra-action suggests another interesting resonance especially with the burgeoning forms and methodologies of artistic research. By stressing the emergence of agencies, entities and modes of knowledge through relations, it comes close to the underlying objective of artistic research concerning the constant transfers between or co-formations of practice and theory; or of ways of doing, making, feeling, thinking, and conceptualising (2018).

There are many terms used to describe an approach to research that works with and/or includes practice: practice-led research, practice as research, practice-based research and practice research. All of these position practice in specific and particular ways. Linda Candy (2006), Estelle Barrett (2007) and Barbara Bolt (2013) characterise practice as research as an approach that draws on ‘multiple fields and pieces together multiple practices in order to provide solutions to concrete and conceptual problems’ (2013: 12). Anna Hickey-Moody builds on Bolt’s work and adds to the definition, ‘practical invention and evaluation, via processes that draw on multiple fields and which piece together multiple practices’ (2015: 169). Finally, Tara Page asserts that practice research is a collective bringing together all these iterations, which acknowledges and entangles practice with research:

where and how the practice is positioned and how it is used in the research depends on the questions being asked and the concrete and conceptual problems that need solving…practice research enables the research, the researcher and those that we are learning and researching ‘with’ to develop and evolve (in preparation).

Practice research and art/s production practices are modes of thought already in the act (Manning & Massumi 2014) and so contemporary arts practices call us to think anew, through remaking the world materially and relationally (Hickey-Moody & Page 2015). But, most importantly, practice research is not about isolating, contextualising and deconstructing a product as it can ‘embrace numerous and personal meanings and give … voice to experiences’ (Stewart 2010: 132). It is concerned with understanding, exploring and learning the socio-cultural-material processes and relationships that make these practices and products. As Crossley states, ‘meaning is not contained within a form itself, say a painting or a poem’ (1996: 71) but, we assert, exists in the between, the intra-actions. Furthermore, as work on non-representational and affective methodologies (Vannini 2015; Coleman & Ringrose 2013; Lury & Wakeford 2012; Back & Puwar 2012; Timm Knudsen & Stage 2014; Lury 2018) have indicated, meaning may not always be what is at stake in research as sensation, feeling, embodiment, interactivity and engagement may be generated, grasped, understood and intervened in, instead or as well as–as several authors in this issue explore.



Building on the ethos of method and practice as thought already in the act, this special issue responds to the increased attention paid to the intra-actions, diffraction and spaces between, practice with research, practice with theory. The concept of intra-action is central to Barad’s (2007) new materialism, and refers to the movement generated in an encounter of two or more bodies in a process of becoming different. For other new materialists, such as Iris van der Tuin (2014; 2015), diffraction is a feminist methodology for reading texts transversely, potentially disturbing disciplinary boundaries and the temporal and cultural contexts in which they are produced. Such practices may create ‘more promising interference patterns’ (Haraway, cited in van der Tuin 2015: 33) and open up fruitful connections across and between seemingly diverse disciplines. The contributions to this special issue work (with) these intra-actions of bodies with matter, theory with practice and practice with research to develop new approaches and bring together collective knowledge and understanding of these activities.

Importantly then, we have encouraged contributors to make and submit work that entangles practice with research, theory with practice, bodies with methods and ultimately cut through disciplinary boundaries. Therefore, contributions entangle text and multi-media (still and moving images), requiring us to become ‘readers’ and ‘viewers’ of practice in multiple ways. This inclusion of ‘not the usual’ contributions, we suggest, is crucial to demonstrate the breadth of work that is emerging in feminist new materialisms, and to highlight the significance of practice to this field. As Barrett asserts that practice can ‘be viewed as the production of knowledge or philosophy in action’ (2007: 1) and more specifically that

[t]he emergence of the discipline of practice-led research highlights the crucial interrelationship that exists between theory and practice and the relevance of theoretical and philosophical paradigms for the contemporary arts practitioner (2007: 1).

Barrett’s point is also supported by an increasing emphasis on visual, sensory and digital methods, the engagement of audiences–both academic and non-academic–through practices ‘beyond text, and the rise of the ‘impact agenda’ in the arts, social sciences and humanities (Back & Puwar 2012). These methods can enable an exploration and examination of the entanglement of all phenomena; human, nonhuman, social, physical, material and immaterial. But, as this collection demonstrates there is no one way, no one single tool-method that can enable this, and, just as Barad (2007) calls for a reconceptualising of approaches to research, we call for not only new methods but also a reconceptualising, a remaking, of the usual empirical methods-tools (Lury & Wakeford 2012; Lury 2018; Page in preparation). Springgay (2015) asserts that new ways of researching should be termed techniques rather than methods or tools, as techniques are processual, emergent and continually reinvent themselves.

Taking seriously these claims requires researchers, editors and publishers to find new ways of supporting and disseminating research beyond text-based chapters and articles. We see this collection as a beginning to this movement. However, this process has not been without its challenges, particularly regarding the issues of a lack of infrastructures or platforms to support the publication of research that includes multimedia work and the issue of the invisible labour of academics in the development and maintenance of these platforms. For example, one large international publisher we approached with a proposal for a collection similar to this one offered to publish a conventional book and link to a website that we built and maintained to include multimedia work. This suggestion also reinserted the division between text and other mediums, theory and practice that we try to disturb with this special issue. Journals supporting and exhibiting transdisciplinary and practice-based work such as MAI still rely on the unpaid labour of its general editors, and for this, we are very grateful.

Other publishers we approached did not see edited collections as viable, either financially or for the objectives for their specific series. These examples point to the difficulty of curating (Puwar & Sharma 2012) and publishing interdisciplinary work at a time when, as this collection–and MAI’s super work more widely–demonstrates, it is sorely needed. For these reasons, we are delighted that MAI: Feminism and Visual Culture are hosting this special issue, as MAI actively supports such disturbances through their acceptance and presentation of non-traditional journal formats. This can be seen even from the wording on MAI’s home page which describes the journal as both ‘non-hierarchical’ and as ‘open to multivalent feminist expression, research and critique of visual culture’, both of which are vital to the ethos behind this special issue.


Making & Mattering: Workshops

One example of our attempts to disturb the boundaries of practice and research is in how we have collaborated in developing and conducting practice-based workshops in academic contexts that aimed to explore the new materialisms through interdisciplinary and precarious practice research. One was the 7th Annual Conference on the New Materialisms, held in Warsaw in 2016, and the other an Early Career Researcher Training School held at Tate Modern, London [1]. Both were organised through the COST initiative mentioned above. Rather than offering the usual presentation of papers, we planned the workshops to enable a sharing and learning ‘with’, where participants experimented with creative practices including embodied mapping, creative writing and collaging. Our aim was to enable translations of ideas across different media, and diffractions of new materialist thinking through materials, and material-discursive entanglements. In the context of new materialist arguments that understand matter as a process of materialisation, the workshops attempted to explore the question of how different materials ‘matter’ differently. To put this another way, different materials give life to different realities and actualise aspects of subjectivity, embodiment and human-world relations that are particular to their material qualities.

Before the conferences we asked participants to engage in pre-workshop making-doings where we asked them to ‘consciously engage’ in a journey they do regularly, for example, to and/or from work, or their journey to the workshop that day. This part of the workshop on ‘conscious engagement’ was run by Tara Page and involved being attentive to the sensory; feelings, sights, sounds, taste, etc., and collating-collecting this engagement through/by writings, notes, photographs, video, recordings, objects-things-materials on/collected from the route. We asked participants to bring these materials to the workshop where we aimed to support and enable questioning, exploring, and understanding through mapping the embodied ways we understand bodies with place/s. This method of mapping these intra-actions, of place with bodies, the action between, is what matters. We also conceived this method as poietic in that it is flexible, dynamic and open, continually becoming. It is not a thing, object or outcome but a space of possibilities and a potential for learning and research.

The participants then took these embodied-material mappings and fragmented them into units of lexical matter (single words written on pieces of paper). Helen Palmer than led on a series of exercises where these units were collated, thrown up in the air, moved, arranged, redistributed, then literally strung up around the workshop space on wire and string, culminating in the translation of the initial material into language-strings or poem-strings. Some then performed their poem-strings by reading them out loud, adding voice to their multivalent renderings. This was then recorded, which of course picked up on the incidental peripheral sounds and the reactions of other participants, all of which were inseparable from the process of research creation itself. Not only did these exercises highlight the materiality of language in several ways the shapes of the letters; the marks of the ink; the pieces of paper; the phonemes in the air; the crackle of the recordings and the string and wire strung around the room–but the reorganisation and rearticulation of concepts thrown up by the word-shifting exercises provoked new pathways of thought which would not otherwise have come into being.

The participants were then supported in exploring the embodied concepts created through journeying and mapping, words and poetry, through collaging. Rebecca Coleman led this part of the workshop through supporting participants with collating images, words, colours, and drawing lines or figures that express the aesthetics and themes found in the previous movement work. This collaging was an accessible method through which materials from multiple and diverse sources, spatialities and temporalities may be assembled together and potentially transformed. We paid attention to these materials (including paper, scissors, glue, pens), as well as the specific practices through which they are transformed (including cutting, tearing, folding). The workshops then ended with a collective reflection and sharing the practices we used and are using.

Through our workshops we asked: how does creative writing materialise matter in similar or different ways to embodied mapping or collage? What capacities to materialise matter does the embodied practice of mapping have, that collaging does and doesn’t? What difference do the materials of these practices (including words, paper, pencils, glue) and the specific practices through which these materials are articulated and transformed (including moving, marking, tracing, cutting, tearing, folding) make to the relations between bodies and worlds? What aspects of subjectivity and/or embodiment are actualised through engaging with these different media? We saw these workshops as ways to support emerging methods for putting new materialist thinking to work. We also focused on the specificities of particular practices, materials and materialisations, attending to, in Haraway’s terms, ‘the situatedness and partiality of knowledge production and worldings’ (Haraway 1988: 2016).


Contributions, Intra-actions & Diffractions

As we note above, diffraction and intra-action are two key concepts in feminist new materialisms, which draw attention to the possibilities of connectivity and relationality between seemingly distinct or autonomous entities, perhaps with surprising or productive affects. We have arranged the contributions to this special issue alphabetically, according to the (first) author’s last name. Providing an account of the alphabetical listing of chapters in their book, Inventive Methods, Celia Lury and Nina Wakeford note that the alphabet is a familiar technique that might encourage readers–or viewers–not to read from A through to Z, but rather to make a selective entry into the collection’ (2012: 1), and ‘to make your own associations–draw a line–across and between the chapters in ways that we may anticipate but do not want to predetermine’ (2012: 2). Our ordering follows in this spirit, and also seeks to disturb the divides between the different compositions of the contributions, which are of different lengths and include collaborative videos, photographs, artworks and written essays, and/or some combination of them. While we could have organised them according to the methods or practices that they work through, or in terms of themes discussed and explored, the alphabet here functions as one way to put next to each other different types of contributions with different aims and objectives, pluralising what might be clicked through to, engaged with and connected together.

Barbaba Bolt’s submission is a visual essay where risk and paradox in analogue and digital painting are traced through the affordances offered by the mediums of watercolour and iPad paintings using the digital painting program, Brushes Redux. Through these tracings, a paradox is identified, between material mutability and virtual mutability and the relationship between the virtual and the mutable, the imagination and the material.

Vikki Chalklin and Helen Palmer explore the potential of queer clowning as a method for feminist new materialist practice. Their practice-based performance research project, Le Tomatique, is used as a node through which to consider the queer-feminist clown as a binary- and hierarchy-disrupting figure which enables radical cultural critique. Le Tomatique’s performances blend absurdist dancing, comedic vignettes and philosophical interrogations in a queer-feminist entanglement of bodies, environments and shapes. Through video documentation of their performances intertwined with textual commentaries, images and music, they demonstrate that feminist new materialist practices must disrupt the boundaries of the University classroom by going outside of it, constituting a critique of both the Western philosophical canon and the elitist academy. Treating Beyoncé, Bauhaus and Barthes with equal irreverent significance intervenes in epistemological debates by foregrounding the ludic and queering cultural value. Drawing on the methods of scavenging, poaching, and re-enactment found in queer and punk subcultures as well as feminist art, they enact diffractions through and across philosophy, pop culture, dance, mime and song.

Julia Coffey and Helen Cahill’s piece works with feminist new materialist methodologies and understandings of affect and the body to explore with young women their everyday embodiments and productions of gender on their university campus. More specifically, they work with drama methods which place the young women’s bodies, movements and affects at the centre of these explorations, through which emerge shared experiences and wariness of sexual harassment. These innovative methods, illuminated in their contribution both textually and photographically, Coffey and Cahill argue, not only capture what and how the young women feel but also provide an important intervention into the everyday hostilities of the campus by enabling them to recognise and problematise shared experiences. In so doing, their work is an example of how feminist ethics might be re-worked and re-understood through feminist new materialisms.

Rebecca Coleman’s entanglement of images-theory-practice develops the methodologies of following as a productive means of responding to the liveliness of things, drawing attention to the often overlooked participation of materials in the processes of research. Coleman’s ‘thing’ is glitter, and through outlining some indicative routes via which glitter might be followed, material properties are considered and the affects it elicits. Coleman’s aim is to literally follow glitter to see where it goes and what it does, methodologically, politically, and affectively.

Kim Donaldson and Katve-Kaisa Konturri’s article is a written and photographic reflection on their collaborative Feminist Colour IN project. Drawing on the surge of adult colouring books, Feminist Colour IN provides participants at academic or public events with the opportunity to colour in feminist or feminist-inspired black and white paper designs while they are listening. They argue that while adult colouring books are individualising and aimed at ‘emptying one’s mind’, their project instead focuses on producing a ‘more-than-linguistic’ participatory and collective experience, encouraging participant-colourers to consider the relations between the concentration required to listen and the activities of their hands. At the same time, the project creates an archive of artworks, enabling Donaldson and Konturri to contemplate and adapt their thinking and practice. Their piece includes a link to an open Facebook group where you can download a colour IN booklet.

Yasmin Gunaratnam’s contribution proposes a ‘researcher as fly’ methodology. Taking up and following the figure of the fly as it appears in an essay by Jorge Luis Borges and the poems of Aracelis Girmay, Gunaratnam describes experiments with empirical performance developed from qualitative research. The live dramatic monologues are meditations on the material and affective entanglements of pain, disease and debility for dying migrants and refugees in the UK. They evoke a sense of place not only as a geographical topos but as the lived ‘chora’ of the sensual and affective history of territorial and biochemical mobilities and of trying to find one’s ground. This piece builds upon and extends these discussions by showing how artistic work with empirical data can provide a tool that is attuned to multiple registers of dispossession. These attunements are especially important in situations of diasporic dying where disease and pain can rearrange sensibility and embodiment (skin colour, hair, voice, the gut) in unpredictable ways. An underlying theme is the methodological and ethical demands of what Gunaratnam calls the ‘withdrawn’. The withdrawn are those phenomena that lack a referent, are diachronic (inaccessible in the now) and mobile (without stable qualities) but can have material effects.

Anne Harris, Stacy Holman Jones and Jonathan Wyatt’s contribution puts at its centre a collaboration ‘micro-making’ ethnographic video method. Each of the authors recorded short videos ‘from machines in/through which the body is set in motion (trains, planes, buses, cars, bicycles, and ferries)’, then wrote to, around and with these videos and then participated in a live spoken word performance where the videos were projected onto their bodies. The contribution does not include the video but instead involves a series of written meditations on the method which range across theoretical, methodological, personal and practical realms, including poems and reflections that were made in the process of compiling it. Working with and across these approaches, the three co-authors enact notions of entanglement by bodily engagement with machines and machine-bodies that propel us forward and intervene in everyday practices and performances. Harris, Holman Jones and Wyatt’s piece develops new materialist and non-representational approaches, complicating many traditional scholarly assumptions including the order in which research is completed, how it is produced and disseminated, and the attribution of work to particular authors/makers.

Anna Hickey-Moody’s piece focuses on the feelings of failure that are produced through a successful large, multi-country ethnographic research project on the common ground between people of different faith backgrounds. Through a review of literature on failure in research and personal reflection on those aspects of research that are often sidelined or written out of official accounts–forgetting equipment, becoming annoyed or upset during a research encounter, not feeling like one is in control–Hickey-Moody configures failure as a research method. She argues that failure and/as research is experienced especially acutely by women researchers, who are ‘consistently positioned as failing to achieve their gender successfully’; an experience that ‘is echoed in the research assemblage through concerns about developing a strong data set, discussions of strong and weak data, and rhetoric recounting successful analysis’. Rather than respond to failure within a successful research project with a shrug and a ‘who cares?’, Hickey-Moody persuasively demonstrates how success and failure are always-already enmeshed and entangled.

Helena Hunter’s ‘Holding the Herbarium’ is a poetic-visual text that forms part of an ongoing artistic-research project titled Speculative Subjectivities that is shaped by a series of encounters with organic materials including minerals and rocks, algae, and the fossilised animal remains of extinct species. During these encounters, creative methods of noticing are engaged, and poetic language functions as a method to materialise narratives, affects and to bring the materials into contact with the broader context of environmental change. The aim is to not write about but to write with the algae to avoid re-presentation or objectification.

Xin Liu’s contribution is an exploration of how new materialist theoretical and methodological approaches might function to refuse anthropocentrism. It analyses discussions about errors in the published air pollution data on Sina Weibo, which is the most popular social media platform in China. And yet, it remains unclear as to how exactly to follow in the process of data collection and analysis. In attuning to the errors of air quality index on Sina Weibo, this piece suggests a rethinking of the method of following not simply as a response to a call, but as simultaneously responding and calling. Such a method makes visible the corporeography of the research assemblage that affords a reconceptualisation of anthropocentrism.

Tara Page’s visual-poetic-text shares ideas and practices that explore the potential and possibilities of placemaking, where through the method of embodied poetic practices and performances, a deep mapping of the very intra-actions of matter and meaning are made visible-known-learned. Place is often something that is hidden, nuanced and ever-changing, and our intra-actions with place are made and remade through the everyday repeated social and material practices of the body. Through individual and collaborative embodied poetic practice Page enables the capturing, learning and sharing of these hidden, and subtle ways of knowing and learning place.

Emma Renold and Jessica Ringrose develop a phEmaterialist approach to examine how gender and sexuality matter for children and young people today. PhEmaterialism is a field they have been instrumental in forging; a field that takes up feminist new materialisms and feminist posthumanism to consider what these might do to reconfigure educational studies. Focusing on what they offer to research methodologies, Renold and Ringrose discuss how they work with arts-based methods, seeing them as productive in engaging young people and feelings about gender that are difficult to articulate. Concentrating on one activity they call ‘jarring’, where young people work with a glass jar, pens and pieces of paper to explore how ‘gender jars’ and write messages for change, they tell stories about both the content the exercise produced and the ways in which it troubled the funder of the research–the Children’s Commissioner Office for England. They go on to discuss some of the other lives of the jars, including in an interactive online feminist activist tool-kit for young people on change-making practices regarding gender-based and sexual violence, AGENDA that has since been commended for its impact beyond academia. Their contribution brings alive some of the often overlooked processes of doing research and demonstrates the challenges and rewards of feminist new materialist methods and practices.

Stephanie Springgay and Sarah E. Truman explore three research-creation events curated by WalkingLab, the queer, feminist collaboration they co-direct that intervenes in the White-cis-hetero-ableist-patriarchal canon of walking scholarship. These three walking research-creation events are BlackGrange, a walk that through Afrofuturism storytelling and ritual re-maps removed histories of Black Diaspora in Canada onto the city of Toronto; To the Landless, which involves speculative conversations between historical feminist anarchists as a way to provoke an Indigenous understanding of spacetime; and Stone Walks Edinburgh, a queer walking tour through the city of Edinburgh. Their discussion focuses on how each of the three events disrupt chronological time through the enactment of affective, intensive, and inventive temporalities. Working with the frictions of putting feminist new materialisms into conversation with queer and trans theories of time, Afrofuturism, and Indigenous futurism, their contribution examines the ethical and political questions the walks raise and seeks to open up the possibilities of different futures.

Maria Tamboukou raises the question of how the researcher and the archive can be conceptualised as an assemblage rather than as separate and independent entities. The archive is, thus, taken as a laboratory of memory–and forgetting–but also as an experimental time-space continuum, where memory and imagination are brought together in the study and understanding of documents. Tamboukou conceives documents as events that mark discontinuities and ruptures in habitual modes of readings and understandings. For Tamboukou, archival research as an œuvre à faire–work to be made offers fresh insights for feminist histories and in this particular work women workers’ contribution to the cultural and political formations of modernity.

Alex Wilson, Elin Már Øyen Vister, Larval Rock Stars and mirko nikolić present a multi-sensory video essay performance and their accompanying statement. The multi-sensory performance is an experiment in bringing other-than-human bodies and their different onto-epistemologies into conversation with one another through our respective human-like bodies. Eco-Poetics for a Pluriverse in Transit offers tiny, ephemeral bridges across our different spaces, places and sites. It is an unfinished and improvised collective expression of the cacophony of our coexistence in this particular historical moment. They enter with an awareness that our polyphonous efforts to speak to each other through water and forest and earth beings risks clumsily missing each other’s point. Rather than negating these contingencies, they embrace the possibilities of interrelating beyond and despite failure.

This collection sits at the nexus of a range of emerging trends and concerns, including

  • new materialist theories,
  • new materialist practices,
  • feminist methodologies,
  • a rejuvenation of social science methodologies,
  • development of practice research.

With our colleagues, we aim to contribute to and expand these various themes and address the liveliness of matter by considering the role of materials and materialisations in research processes. The special issue moves across different kinds of new materialist practices, methods and theories, and develops specifically feminist approaches to the doing-making of research.



[1] We would like to acknowledge that Anna Hickey-Moody was also involved in proposing these workshops, but was not able to participate in them



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